How to prevent back pain when doing HIIT

With its emphasis on time-efficient and tough workouts, high-intensity interval training (HITT) has risen to popularity with regular gym goers and the self-proclaimed “I hate the gym” gymers alike. The benefits of high-intensity training are well documented for improving cardiovascular fitness changing body composition, increasing metabolism (your resting energy consumption) and getting a great hit of endorphins release for that feel good factor of getting through a brutal workout.

So with many great health benefits in a short amount of time what’s not to like? Well, as with all forms of exercise there comes an element of injury risk. Of course, these risks are not exclusive to HITT workouts, but the high-intensity nature of HITT classes and the type of exercises that are often included can make participants prone to injury. Here we look at the top 3 most common injuries we as therapists see in our clinic that come as a result of HITT classes and some simple steps to reduce the risk of injury.

Lower back pain

Lower back pain is probably the most common issue that presents in physiotherapy clinics full stop, but many cases of lower back injuries occur during or as a result of exercise classes. Many of the exercises that are included in these classes such as deadlifts, squats or kettlebell swings are complicated moves and lifts that require guidance and practice to get right. Performed well and they are great at strengthening the muscles surrounding the back that help support the spine, performed incorrectly they can have the opposite effect and be harmful to structures in the spine. During these exercises, the spine position should remain stable, and not move from the start to the end of the exercise. When excessive movement occurs in the spine during loaded exercises the amount of pressure immediately increases on the lower back, risking an acute injury or leading to pain and dysfunction over time.

One way to help avoid this is to learn how to move or “hinge” at the hips, without moving the lower back. The hip hinge movement is relevant to many exercises that feature heavily in HITT classes. Taking time to learn how to isolate movement from the hips without changing your back position will keep with lifting and swinging for years to come.

Getting into a good lifting position requires sufficient hip mobility. Good hip mobility is something that many of us are not blessed with, particularly when we spend 8-10 hours a day stuck sitting. Keeping the hamstrings and gluteal muscles flexible allows the spine to stay still as you hinge at the hips and help prevent rounding in the lower back. Here are three exercises you can try before your class to help prepare the body for movement.

The hamstring extender

Lay flat on your back holding both hands behind the lower thigh. Maintaining a small gap underneath the lower back, tighten the front thigh muscles and straighten the leg to the ceiling. Hold for 5 seconds and relax your leg back. Perform 5 times and repeat 2 sets.


Quadruped rocking

Begin on all fours with small curve in the lower back. Rock your hips back to your heels as far as you can go maintaining the same curve in the lower back.

Perform 3 sets of 12 reps


Dead bugs 

A great exercise for working abdominals and learning how to control movement in the lower spine, whilst moving the legs and arms. Lay flat on your back with a small curve underneath the lower back, hips and knees at 90º and arms straight with hands pointing to the ceiling.

Stiffen through your abdominals, exhale and lower one foot at a time to the floor being sure to keep the lower back still. Inhale to return to the start position. Alternate between lowering the arms and legs one at a time.


Take home message  

The spine is a robust and strong structure that is capable of bearing incredible loads providing those loads are handled correctly. Don’t be afraid to exercise. However, if you do experience lower back pain during or after exercise seek advice from a professional who can guide you to the best way to manage your issue and return you to exercise safely.


If you found this article useful, look out for parts 2 and three over the comings wewhich will cover shoulder and knee pain. 

Posted in Exercises, Injury, Marathon, Pilates, Running.